For my first few weeks in Busan I was starting to worry whether I had made the right decision to come here after all.. The experiences I was having weren’t anything special , after an number of fairly disappointing restaurant visits, I decided to cook most of my meals at home. I tried a few bars around PNU where I work but they were not the places you could go to alone and get talking to people very easily. Most Koreans go to such places to be with their friends, where they can sit on large tables big enough to hold all their snacks and drinks.
Then last Friday I had an experience that restored my faith somewhat and made me see that it is possible to have a good time here, even as a foreigner on your own with no friends.
It all started when I took a ride with one of my students to Dongnae, an area I had heard was a new hot place for drinking. The first place I tried was an Izakaya and as usual I was the only foreigner in that place. I didn’t fancy ordering any food so I chose a bottle of soju instead. The good thing is that you can take the bottle with you if you can’t finish it in one place.
I looked around me and saw just a few Koreans sitting in groups. It didn’t seem like the kind of place anyone was going to speak to a foreigner. i gulped down a shot of soju and finished the free soup they had given to me.
The next place I went to was called Sherlock Holmes. It looked like a really bad impression of a British pub, all totally inauthentic, the kind of place only someone with no idea about pubs would go to. After the waiter seemed to have trouble understanding me, I left without sampling any of the beer which was no doubt horribly overpriced. It was on leaving this pub that I ended up talking to someone who was going to be very helpful for the evening.
I saw him smoking outside one of the restaurants. Usually when I am in a place i don’t know I ask a local for some advice. It can really help if you tell someone that you don’t know where to go, because 9 times out of 10, people will go out of their way to help you. Admittedly you might run the risk of asking someone who either misunderstands your request and sends you to a really bad place, or even worse will act with malice and lead you to somewhere like Ye Olde Shithole but I promise it’s hardly ever happened to me.
Talking to this guy led me first to go to a beer house where we drunk one giant jug of Miller between us and then we decided to visit a raw fish place. I had wanted to try it since I first came here. finally i had the chance. The platter we tried had three kinds of fish but they were all fairly similar in terms of taste and texture, and nothing like sashimi.
By the time we had finished it was past midnight, which meant that there were no more trains or buses headed back to PNU. so i had no option but to go back with him to Yangsan, which I found out later is actually another city outside Busan (although its still connected to the subway system).
God knows what time it was, but the old guy still wanted to drink, and before i could protest he had dragged me into a karaoke place. It looked like most of the places I had been to before, a bunch of private rooms with a song selection book. We ordered some beers and he proceeded to belt out a version of My Way at earsplitting volume. I settled down to an evening of drinking and singing some of my favourite songs. Then half way through my particularly fine rendition of Living On a Prayer the door was opened and in came a couple of Korean hostess women.
I guess that they must have worked there. They were laden with a giant tray of fruit (its common to order fruit when drinking) and a tray of drinks including a bottle of whisky. Shots were poured and quickly drunk. they were impressive drinkers if they could match us drink for drink. My woman sat right beside me, much closer than was strictly necessary. To be honest I was glad of the company. Although South Korea has a lot of attractive women, its not easy to find anyone interested in any physical contact, especially a one-night stand.
We started holding hands and I stroked her back under her shirt, but nothing more. The best thing was that she chose some great songs (James Taylor’s Handyman, Bee Gees’ Devotion for us to sing together. For some reason Bee Gees songs always come up at Karaoke whenever Koreans are singing.
Sadly, the drink had got the better of my friend and his companion – who was wearing a low dress that made the most of her large cleavage- had to spend most of the evening mopping his face with a wet towel and pouring water in his mouth. She was definitely attractive and had she been with me I would have liked to have gone further.
As it happens, we didn’t get the best women that worked there, because when I went to the bathroom I went into a different karaoke room and saw a much younger and more attractive woman with a young man. These places aren’t like strip clubs where you can see all the women that they have.
I left before they showed me the bill. and don’t worry, I spoke to the old man and a few days later and he was fine, although the hangover from the bill and the booze can’t have been good.
I believe that these places can be an interesting novelty for anyone wanting to experience the more seamy side of Korean night life. You can guarantee I will be going again, if the price isn’t too high.